Editorial

View from the Topside
Bourdais threatening to make it a runaway

   by Rick Benjamin
May 31, 2006

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Can anyone catch Bourdais?
LAT for Champ Car

Just back from Monterrey after my third trip to Fundidora Park for the Tecate Grand Prix last weekend, on my first of two visits to Wisconsin this week to take care of some short track obligations. The story of Champ Car’s sixth visit to Monterrey was clearly Sebastien Bourdais’ dominance of a strong field on a steamy May Sunday afternoon.

While it’s too early to engrave this year’s Vanderbilt Cup with Bourdais’ name, it’s not much of a stretch to think it’ll take a major shift in the competitive structure of Champ Car to see anyone else come away with the 2006 Champ Car championship.

Anyone who’s watched the Frenchman work his magic at the wheel of the Newman/Haas #1 these past couple of seasons would have to admit he’s the series’ benchmark on the racetrack. And after watching the whupping he’s laid on the field at Long Beach and at Monterrey it appears to me he’s only getting better. Newman/Haas continues to give Bourdais a race car that’s without peer at just about every venue and Seb just keeps raising the bar as a driver.

The win at Monterrey means that Bourdais has matched the start of Paul Tracy’s championship season three years ago. Now it wouldn’t be unheard of in racing for a driver or his team to lose the magic…and for another driver and team to find it and make a battle out of the championship. The woods are full of drivers who began a season with a host of wins and great runs only to see their advantage evaporate overnight while another driver finds some magic of his own. But given the recent history in Champ Car and Newman/Haas’ long history of achievement, that kind of turnaround seems a long shot this season.

Just as puzzling, perhaps, is the slow start to the year of Bourdais’ teammate Bruno Junqueira. Bruno has battled back after devastating injuries suffered a year ago at Indy. It’s a small miracle, at least to me, that he’s even able to get into the car much less race it effectively. But while Bruno is qualifying well he’s struggling once the green drops. After being taken out in turn one at Long Beach he’s been unable to keep pace with the leaders at either Houston or Monterrey.

Bruno says that aerobically he’s as strong as ever, but that his rehab might not be complete in terms of strength. The punishing Houston circuit surely wasn’t the optimal place to race for Junqueira, and Monterrey’s heat had to have been a challenge. Here’s hoping having this week off coupled with the return to the Milwaukee Mile this weekend will be just the balm Bruno needs to jumpstart his season.

Paul Tracy is among the Champ Car stars who have to be happy about the trek to Beertown this weekend as well. PT’s strength on ovals is well-documented; after passing pole winner Jimmy Vasser last year, the Indeck-Forsythe 3 car was never headed. A strong run to victory in the Time-Warner 225 could be just the tonic Tracy needs to get his season turned around, perhaps putting the 2003 champ on track to challenge for the title.

The RuSPORT teammates, Justin Wilson and AJ Allmendinger, need to take a leap forward this weekend at Milwaukee. Many preseason estimates tabbed Wilson as the driver most likely to challenge Bourdais for the Champ Car Championship this season. He’s yet to really come to grips with oval racing, while Allmendinger, who has had some success at Milwaukee, needs to break his maiden in the series and grab a win. We’ll see if the RuSPORT squad is ready to meet the challenge of oval racing.

Me, I’m anticipating a Wisconsin battle between Tracy and Oriol Servia, an accomplished oval racer who’ll steer a PKV car carrying a strong Tom Brown setup, a proven Milwaukee combination.

Hope you and yours enjoyed the Memorial Day holiday and we’ll see you on SPEED next Sunday from the Mile.

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